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RNA as a fundamental component of interphase chromosomes: could repeats prove key?

ABSTRACT

Beginning with the precedent of XIST RNA as a 'chromosomal RNA' (cRNA), there is growing interest in the possibility that a diversity of non-coding RNAs may function in chromatin. We review findings which lead us to suggest that RNA is essentially a widespread component of interphase chromosomes. Further, RNA likely contributes to architecture and regulation, with repeat-rich 'junk' RNA in euchromatin (ecRNA) promoting a more open chromatin state. Thousands of low-abundance nuclear RNAs have been reported, however it remains a challenge to determine which of these may function in chromatin. Recent findings indicate that repetitive sequences are enriched in chromosome-associated non-coding RNAs, and repeat-rich RNA shows unusual properties, including localization and stability, with similarities to XIST RNA. We suggest two frontiers in genome biology are emerging and may intersect: the broad contribution of RNA to interphase chromosomes and the distinctive properties of repeat-rich intronic or intergenic junk sequences that may play a role in chromosome structure and regulation.